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The Gender Revolution and its Effects on Family Formation and Stability

(see also the corresponding project page at the Laboratory of Digital and Computational Demography at the MPIDR)

Women’s labor market opportunities have improved drastically since the mid-20th century. Starting in the 1960s, women have entered higher education in ever greater numbers, and today they often outperform men in terms of enrolment and success in tertiary education. This is paralleled by an increase in female-labor force participation and an influx of women into previously male-dominated occupations of high status. Hence, the economic roles of men and women in society have become more similar. Many scholars have argued that this “gender revolution” is likely to have important implications for family formation and stability. Indeed, earlier research has shown that traditional family patterns have started to change already. For example, women in marriage used to be either similarly or less educated than their male partners, whereas today they tend to have either a similar or even a higher level of education. At the same time, patterns of divorce also changed. In the past, marriages used to have a higher risk of being divorced than other marriages when the woman surpassed the man in education attainment. But today, they are not more or less likely to be dissolved.

The foregoing examples illustrate the far-reaching consequences that the gender revolution may have for family life. But the mechanisms that link changes in men’s and women’s relative economic position with changes in family behavior are still poorly understood. This project seeks to address this lacuna, by studying dynamics of family formation and dissolution – and changes therein over time – in the European context. The focus is on Europe, motivated by the fact that the onset and permeation of the gender revolution has greatly varied across countries. For example, Scandinavian countries are commonly considered to be among the vanguard of the gender revolution, they show the highest level of gender egalitarianism. In German-speaking countries, by contrast, the gender revolution started later and is still lagging behind. This variation across time and space provides statistical leverage to study the processes that are in the focus of this project.

Methodologically, two approaches are used: first, traditional empirical analysis of existing large-scale survey data (e.g., multi-level regression analysis) to study and describe patterns of family formation and dissolution; second agent-based computational modelling, a complement to the first approach. The combination of the two enables us to explore the social mechanisms that may have brought changes in patterns of family formation and dissolution.

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